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QUALITATIVE DATA COLLECTION . The aim of this session is to enable you to: • justify decisions about sampling select and apply an appropriate method of data collection construct questions for qualitative data collection and elicit high quality responses

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qualitative data collection

The aim of this session is to enable you to:

• justify decisions about sampling

  • select and apply an appropriate method of data collection
  • construct questions for qualitative data collection and elicit high quality responses
  • anticipate and manage potential practical and ethical difficulties related to qualitative data collection.
structure of this session
Structure of this session
  • Sampling
  • Developing good interview questions + practice
  • Good interviewing skills + break
  • Beyond the interview – other methods of data collection
  • Practical and ethical issues + tutorial
sampling in qualitative research

Sampling is not statistically representative but ‘purposive’ or ‘theoretical’, i.e. you sample people who will provide information that serves the purpose of your research.

Do you need to sample people:

  • with a particular range of experiences (e.g. illness characteristics, adherence, outcome)
  • from different contexts or cultures? (e.g. different hospitals, regions, ethnic backgrounds)
  • who will have a particular relationship to the researcher (e.g. gender, age)
  • who have particular qualities? (e.g. expert, articulate, typical, atypical)
interviewing structured
  • Directive questions designed to elicit a closed set of pre-defined responses (suitable for quantitative research).
  • Same advantages/disadvantages as questionnaires in terms of standardisation, reliability
  • Permits complex question structure (If No, go to ...), minimises missing data, good for respondents with reading difficulties.
  • May be interviewer effects on responses.
semi structured depth interviews
Semi-structured/depth interviews

Non-directive questions designed to elicit interviewee’s perspective (suitable for qualitative research).

Permits expression of:

  • non-rational or inconsistent responses
  • idiosyncratic or unique responses
  • responses the researcher did not anticipate

Responses are given in context, including emotional and sociocultural context, with expression of nuances and associations.

Effects of research context on responses must be considered.

constructing an interview schedule
  • construct 5-10 open questions (the more you ask the less they will talk) - start with question easy to answer, follow up questions with prompts if necessary
  • use general questions which invite stories about personal experience
  • avoid abstract questions or questions which ask directly about opinions, reasons or beliefs, as these invite socially desirable responses
  • avoid leading or evaluative questions and double-barrelled questions
  • use non-technical language
You want to carry out some qualitative research that will help you to understand what is the best way to give medicine in order to encourage adherence.

What is wrong with the following questions?

Construct some alternative questions that will elicit what you want to know. (For discussion in tutorials)

1. What is your opinion of this medication?

2. Do you find this medication easiest to take in tablet form or as an injection?

3. Why do some people not take their medication?

developing a skilled interview technique

Good communication skills essential:

  • set interviewee at ease by explaining who you are, what you will be asking and why, and that you are interested in their perspective
  • general chat before the interview helps to get conversation going, relaxes interviewee, avoids being too focused, rushed or formal
  • use verbal techniques to express interest and encourage interviewee to expand;

- neutral prompts such as ‘mmm’ ‘I see’, ‘that’s interesting’, ‘can you tell me more?’

- ‘reflecting’ back what the interviewee has said

Nonverbal techniques to express interest:
  • sit at right-angles or diagonally, relaxed pose
  • nod head, smile, look interested!
  • look at speaker often but do not stare
  • do not look at notes or watch, fidget, etc.
  • allow long pauses, don’t rush in to speak

Practice, get feedback from interviewees, tape-record your interviews and listen to what YOU say, reflecting on how you might have responded better

beyond the interview other methods of qualitative data collection

Focus groups: group discussion ‘focused’ on particular topic

what are focus groups useful for
What are focus groups useful for?
  • rapid exploration of views of topic (e.g. prior to questionnaire development)
  • eliciting dominant as well as diverse or unusual arguments/perceptions relating to a topic
  • avoiding direct questioning by ‘expert’ interviewer
  • allowing mutual exploration of shared experiences
  • allowing joint opinion formation, evaluation and decision-making
what focus groups are not good for
What focus groups are NOT good for
  • uncovering individual subjective experiences, feelings (especially if sensitive, socially unacceptable)
  • establishing individual opinions, attitudes
  • determining representative attitudes
issues specific to running focus groups
  • decide on group composition (all similar or mixed?) and number of groups (about 3 per ‘type’, 5-8 participants per group)
  • consider access (location, timing) and practicalities of recording discussion (seating, badges, quality tape-recorder/video-recorder)
  • organise moderator, optionally also observer, housekeeper
  • pretest ‘question route’ in similar pilot sample
running the group
Running the group
  • welcome, introduction of participants, clarify purpose and ethical issues on tape at beginning (check tape working!)
  • establish ground rules; one person talks at a time, everyone important
  • ask participants to introduce themselves
  • start with easy question everyone can talk about
  • use body language to control group - silence/eye-contact to encourage talk, turning away, etc.
running the group cont
Running the group cont.
  • moderator should be self-effacing but keep discussion relevant, and try to ensure even contributions, comprehensive coverage, clarification of issues
  • use pre-prepared generalised prompts (how did you feel?, does anyone feel differently?) and re-directions (maybe we can discuss that later, but first ...)
  • follow-up leads from earlier
  • finish by asking if anything else relevant to topic, thanking, going over ethical issues/payment etc.
practical and ethical issues in qualitative research

Imagine you want to carry out video-recorded interviews with men unable to work due to back pain, in their own homes. Anticipate the difficulties you may encounter and how you will resolve them. (For discussion in tutorial groups)

1. Practical difficulties

2. Risks to your interviewees or yourself

3. Ethical issues

Now list some different types of qualitative data that might be interesting to collect/analyse.

other types of qualitative data collection
Other types of qualitative data collection

Cognitive interviews (verbal protocols)

Asking participants to report cognitive processes (‘think aloud’) while performing task, in order to identify perceptions, stages, strategies, etc.


  • may influence/interfere with task performance
  • participants may not be able to accurately introspect regarding their thought processes
Naturally occurring dialogue
  • A: ecological validity
  • D: (ethical) access to dialogue of interest

Written texts

  • A: ecologically valid cultural communications
  • D: only useful as data for analysing pre-existing deliberate communications


  • A: can provide prospective longitudinal data
  • D: may be difficult to get people to keep them regularly, write enough
Written answers to postal or internet questions
  • A: can access dispersed, rare individuals easily
  • A: can answer sensitive questions without face to face contact (anonymously on internet)
  • D: may not write much, cannot verify internet sample, which is restricted to literate PC users

Visual material (photographs, videos)

  • A: can obtain material that is not or cannot be verbalised
  • D: can be difficult to select what to sample/code
  • D: difficult to anonymise data for presentation or archiving
Ethnography (participant observation)
  • A: very rich, contextualised, ecologically valid data, including material aspects of phenomenon, actions as well as talk/text
  • A: permits elaborate description and interpretation with attention to multiple viewpoints and social processes
  • D: can be a very partial, subjective interpretation, difficult to achieve reflexive awareness of researcher’s own biases
  • D: close involvement with participants raises many difficult practical, analytical and ethical dilemmas
common dilemmas facing participant observers
Common dilemmas facing participant observers
  • Can and should you remain critically detached?
  • To what extent can and should you discuss observations/interpretations with those observed?
  • How can participation, observation and documentation be combined?
  • What identity will be presented to which people?
  • What concessions will be made to group conventions?
  • (How) will the research disturb or influence those observed?
  • How can informed consent be obtained and anonymity guaranteed?
Identify and solve dilemmas facing participant observers in relation to any one of these scenarios (in groups of 3-4)

A participant observation study of:

  • a) interactions between teachers and parents concerning the child’s performance
  • b) behaviour and culture of adolescent illegal ‘hard’ drug users
  • c) experiences and perceptions of participants in an experiment involving mild deception
  • d) family interactions of people with mental health problems living at home